It’s almost that time for many of us…that week (or two) in which students brandish their #2 pencils and buckle down for The Test. Yes, this is the de facto culmination of the year (inexplicably several weeks or months too early) which more often than not is the determining factor in promotion. “Sure, we’re only 6 months into the school year. But I’ve raced through and covered the ENTIRE curriculum and you’re expected to have mastered it and to prove your abilities in a single three hour test! Heeeeere we gooooo!”
But no pressure, right?
I don’t bring up Florida’s state test (the FCAT) very often for my students during the year, unless it’s in a positive and encouraging way (“That set of questions was EXACTLY like the ones you’ll see on the FCAT, and you did so well on them! The FCAT won’t hold any surprises for you! You’re gonna do great!”). However, about a month before the test, I start pumping the kids up about the exciting things that will happen during that previously dreaded first week of March:
- No homework for the whole WEEK!
- Buffet style breakfast in the classroom every morning! [Oh, yes, details below!]
- An HOUR of recess on each day of testing!
After those announcements, the kids are counting down to the test. They’re no longer dreading its approach, and are looking forward to the rewards that will accompany their hard work.
A few years ago, I put a request on my message board (now defunct, and replaced by the newsletter) for teachers to share ways they make testing week fun. The ideas that I got back were fantastic! Here is a sampling of the ones I liked best (taken verbatim from a compilation in my book):
“We make test-taking survival kits I found on a website a few years ago. The kids really love them. They get stickers, gum, and new pencils which they especially love, plus other stuff to help them ‘survive’.”
“You’d be surprised how one stick of gum leaves an impression! As we talk about getting ready for our test, that’s the first thing my kids ask—are we going to get to chew gum? They look forward to testing week! We started this practice when all the high stakes testing took effect. We were looking for ways to help the kids relax, and gum seemed like a cheap, easy thing to try.”
“We have breakfast every morning before we test. I have made pancakes, eggs, and waffles, and brought in things like donuts, muffins, and cereal.” Note: I tried this idea a few years ago and loved it so much that it’s become a testing tradition! I send home a note asking parents to provide bagels, muffins, fruit, granola bars, etc., and set up a buffet for the kids. Eating breakfast together really helps calm the class down and creates a bond that reassures them that we’re all in this together.
“I only test in the morning, so I have to fill many afternoons. Some years I had theme afternoons. We did a carnival one year and the kids loved it! We had games related to probability and just general carnival games. It was a lot of fun.”
“I talk to the P.E. teacher and she sometimes allows us to use the gym. I either give the kids free time or we cruise around on scooters or play a game together.”
“We had a board game afternoon. The kids brought in games from home and they played all afternoon.”
“We always make a big art project. The past three years, we made tissue paper butterflies. These are very involved, so this is a perfect time for us to take time out of our schedule to do them.”
“I let the kids vote on free time inside or outside for the last half hour of the day.”
“I let them have snacks before and after the test sessions. Since we do our nutrition unit during testing week, we try to have snacks from the different food groups.”
“We do large art portfolio books, one page each afternoon during test week.”
“At the end of the test on Friday, when all has been turned in, we walk to the far edge of the playground and on the count of three, we scream as loud as we can, ‘It’s over!’ Then we run around like we are chickens with our heads cut off. I buy poppers (plastic bags you blow in then squeeze to pop so paper confetti comes out). We shoot them off to celebrate the end of the test.”
“We go outside and fly styro-foam airplanes, have races with little jumping frog toys, and take walks while blowing bubbles.”
“On the last day of testing, we celebrate with an ice cream party.”
Of course, these are just ideas for making test week something to look forward to rather than dread. More practical ideas for helping your students prepare for, survive, and even have fun with standardized testing can be found in my book, The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable. You can get a huge sample of these ideas on the Planning and Assessment page of the free teaching resource section of my website:
-Preparing Psychologically: helping students understand why we take tests, setting a purpose for test taking, revealing criteria and scoring in an understandable way, expressing your own feelings about the test, and more
-Preparing Academically: balancing test prep materials with authentic ones, teaching test-taking skills in moderation, stopping test practice before the test to avoid burn out, and more
-Plus: ways to create and utilize affirmation posters to build self-confidence, how to give effective individual pep talks, and fun ideas for helping kids de-stress during test breaks
What kinds of things do YOU do to help your students survive standardized testing?
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